Cruz, Dewhurst head for Texas showdown

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Tuesday’s Senate primary in Texas is one of the most competitive races in the country — and one of the most expensive, as well.

Four candidates are vying for the seat that longtime Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will vacate after this year: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former Solicitor General Ted Cruz, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, and football player turned ESPN commentator Craig James.

Dewhurst and Cruz are the considered the two major contenders. The Lieutenant Governor has high name identification in the state and is independently wealthy – “a bottomless pit,” per Texas Democratic strategist Harold Cook – which has made him the frontrunner. According to FEC filings, he has raised over $18 million since the start of the campaign – $12 million of which he personally loaned to the campaign. Cruz has raised less overall – $6.1 million according to the campaign, but that figure is on par with the $5.7 million that Dewhurst had raised from other people at the time of his last campaign filing.

Cruz has become a conservative superstar, and has drawn both huge amounts of praise from prominent conservatives like Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum and support from tea party groups nationwide. In a cover story late last year, National Review went so far as to name Cruz “The Next Great Conservative Hope.”

Given the makeup of the state, whoever wins the Republican primary will almost certainly win the seat, as there are no viable Democratic candidates.

It’s a difficult seat to campaign for: the state of Texas is gigantic, and its 20 different media markets make running in the state an expensive proposition. It’s also the only statewide office where candidates must deal with federal campaign finance laws, which make it harder for candidates to raise the exorbitant amounts of money needed to run statewide.

The latest poll conducted by Public Policy Polling last week has Dewhurst leading with 46 percent, followed by Cruz at 29 percent. Leppert is at 15 percent and James gets just 3 percent.

To win the primary, a candidate must get at least 50 percent of the vote. If no candidate receives 50 percent on Tuesday, the election will go to a two-person run-off, which would be held in late July.

The timing of the election makes a low turnout on Tuesday likely. It’s “the day after a holiday…almost one of the first days of summer,” pointed out Jordan Berry, a Texas Republican strategist who is not involved in the race. Also, a late May election is months later than Texas normally holds its primaries.

“My guess would be Dewhurst is the frontrunner, but the low turnout plays to Cruz’s favor and it will allow Cruz to pull Dewhurst into a run-off,” posited Berry.

A run-off primary on July 30 would likely work to Cruz’s advantage, as only the most devoted, enthusiastic supporters will likely turn out to vote. Those people are usually the most conservative voters, a demographic that is solidly in Cruz’ corner.

If the race goes to a run-off, “Cruz is in a much better position than he would be in a normal situation,” Berry said. “I’m not sure he has the edge because Dewhurst still has a ton of money, but I think that Cruz’s odds increase.”

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